Skip to main content

Environmental Business

ENVIRONMENTAL BUSINESS

ENVIRONMENTAL BUSINESS. Since the late nineteenth century, scientists have documented how industrial production and consumption practicies have damaged the environment and human health. From early concern over coal-derived air pollution and toxins in the workplace, concern has shifted to nuclear issues, species extinction, solid waste disposal, toxic pollution, pesticides, deforestation, and global warming. As this evidence has accumulated, businesspeople, economists, environmentalists, and consumers have begun to struggle with ways to make businesses environmentally responsible. Some observers believe that "environmental business" is an oxymoron, that business by definition cannot be environmentally sound. Others maintain that business has made sufficient concessions to environmental concerns. By the 1990s, however, a growing number of consumers and businesspeople were striving to incorporate environmental, moral, and ethical concerns into business practices.

According to the U.S. Congress's Office of Technology Assessment, there are five conceptual frameworks that describe the diverse ways in which businesses and government approach the interface between business and the environment. Frontier economics emphasizes economic growth and unlimited resource exploitation. Environmental protection recognizes the environment as an economic externality that must be protected through regulations that ban or limit activities that degrade the environment. Under this view, cost-benefit analysis resolves conflicts between the economy and the environment, with the goal of reducing the quantity and toxicity of waste. Resource management attempts to internalize environmental costs through measures of policy and economic performance, such as green taxes or tradable pollution permits. Resource management maintains that ecological productivity is necessary to the economy and emphasizes resource conservation as well as waste reduction. Ecodevelopment suggests making the economy sustainable by modeling industrial production on ecological systems, which entails moving from linear production systems to closed, circular ones. It stresses designs that avoid toxic materials, replacing nonrenewable with renewable resources, and ensuring recycling of essential nonrenewable materials. Unlike the previous models, ecodevelopment does not see technology as a substitute for natural resources. Lastly, deep ecology calls for harmony with nature and prescribes drastic reductions in human population and the scale of human economies.

For the most part, changes in business practices during the last quarter of the twentieth century fell under the environmental-protection rubric. But as shareholders and consumers began to seek out environmentally responsible companies and regulators sought to mobilize the market to induce environmentally responsible behavior, businesses began to use resource management and ecodevelopment strategies. By 2000 more than $2 trillion had been invested in socially and environmentally screened investment funds in the United States. These investors and consumers could make decisions based upon the information companies are now required to make public such as toxic-release inventories. The requirement that companies measure their pollution and make the information public has led many businesses to adopt processes and technologies that reduce or prevent environmental degradation. In addition, for some time, many companies have been recycling waste; more and more are starting to use products made from recyled materials. A growing sector of the economy is offering products that reduce the consumers' impact on the environment. And some businesses have been developing the expertise to take advantage of emissions trading programs that are likely to be a feature of the twenty-first century marketplace.

The "greening of business" has made "green labeling" an important issue for consumers and businesses. An increasing number of consumers want to purchase products made from recycled materials, produced in environmentally sensitive ways, that help consumers reduce their own energy use or enhance their health. In some cases, such as organic produce, the federal government has assumed responsibility for defining "green products." In most cases, however, private third parties offer certification of environmental and social attributes. In the United States, the three major green labelling organizations are Green Seal, Scientific Certification Systems ("Green Cross"), and Energy Star.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is clear that CEOs ignore the impact of their business practices upon the environment at their peril. It is also clear that government will continue to have a role in shaping the interface between the environment and business, especially since environmental problems do not respect state or national boundaries.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cairncross, Frances. Costing the Earth: The Challenge for Governments, the Opportunities for Business. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1992.

Devall, Bill, and George Sessions. Deep Ecology. Salt Lake City, Utah: G. M. Smith, 1985.

Greer, Jed, and Kenny Bruno. Greenwash: The Reality Behind Corporate Environmentalism. Penang, Malaysia: Third World Network, 1996.

Hamilton, Alice. Exploring the Dangerous Trades: The Autobiography of Alice Hamilton, M.D. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1985.

Hawken, Paul. The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability. New York: Harper Business, 1993.

Stradling, David. Smokestacks and Progressives: Environmentalists, Engineers and Air Quality in America, 1881–1951. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. Green Products by Design: Choices for a Cleaner Environment. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1992.

Susan J.Cooper/c. p.

See alsoAir Pollution ; Conservation ; Endangered Species ; Energy, Renewable ; Energy Industry ; Global Warming ; Hazardous Waste ; Nuclear Power ; Waste Disposal ; Water Pollution .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Environmental Business." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Environmental Business." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/environmental-business

"Environmental Business." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved October 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/environmental-business

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.